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Where is al-Sadr? Not in Iran, official says

Story Highlights

Spokesman: U.S. waging "psychological" war against Iran
Earlier Bush administration said al-Sadr in Iran; now they don't know
• Members of al-Sadr's Mehdi militia were told to leave Iraq
• Iran spokesman: If Iran attacked, West in peril
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TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman denied Sunday that Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Iraqi Shiite cleric who opposes the U.S. presence in Iraq, is in Iran.

"Muqtada al-Sadr is not in Iran," Mohammad Ali Hosseini said, according to the semi-official Iran Labor News Agency.

Hosseini labeled as "propaganda" U.S. suggestions to the contrary, accusing the United States of waging a "psychological" war to pressure Iran.

Last week, an Iraqi government official said al-Sadr departed Iraq for Iran a few days earlier, just as coalition forces were staging security crackdowns on insurgents.

Sami al-Askari, a member of parliament and a political adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, provided no details.

Earlier last week, Bush administration and U.S. military officials also said al-Sadr was in Iran and had been there for about two weeks. (Read the full story)

But on Sunday, White House Spokesman Tony Snow said he didn't know al-Sadr's whereabouts.

"It is unclear," Snow told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." "It's pretty clear he's not holding press conferences and making his whereabouts known.

"The most important thing about Muqtada al-Sadr, or for that matter anybody involved in the Mehdi Army, they have to make some choices."

Talabani: Mehdi soldiers told to leave Iraq

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has determined that any members of militias in Iraq must give up that membership or, "Sorry, but they're going to go after you," Snow said.

On Thursday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he didn't know whether al-Sadr was in Iraq, but he said members of al-Sadr's Mehdi militia had been told to leave the country.

"I think that there are many senior members of the Mehdi army (that) had received orders to leave Iraq to ease the security forces' mission to implement their plan," the Iraqi president said.

He added that al-Sadr himself wants stability in Iraq and wants the Baghdad security plan to succeed.

On Wednesday, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said al-Sadr left Iraq last month and "it appears he is in Iran."

An aide close to al-Sadr said Wednesday the cleric was in the holy city of Najaf, about 75 miles south of Baghdad.

And again on Thursday, members of al-Sadr's bloc within parliament, Saleh al-Ageili and Falah Hassan Shnashel, denied he was in Iran.

Hosseini was also asked about a statement from the Iranian government, which said: "If Iran is attacked the West's interests would be in danger throughout the world."

Hosseini denied the statement was intended as a threat by Iran to send its agents to the West to carry out operations.

"The statement did not mean that, but global and regional security are interconnected like a chain and if there is insecurity in one of the links of this chain the other links will inevitably be affected as well," Hosseini said.

On the nuclear issue, the Iranian deputy foreign minister said Sunday that Iran would consider any proposal that would safeguard the rights of the Iranian nation regarding the use of peaceful nuclear technology.

CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr in Tehran contributed to this report.

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Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is believed to be hiding in Iraq, U.S. officials said last week. Iranian officials deny that he is there.




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